In a case where someone is injured by the negligence of the owner of property, one can bring a premises liability case. In general, natural environmental conditions are not compensable where injury occurs, however, where the property owner voluntarily undertook a duty to remove the natural accumulation and did so in a negligent manner or the hazardous condition was created by the property owner leading to the accumulation of the elements, such cases are compensable. The relevant distinction is between natural versus unnatural accumulations.
A natural accumulation is any natural environmental accumulation such as rain, snow, sleet, or hail that accumulates absent any actions of the property owner. An unnatural accumulation would occur when the accumulation of rain, snow, sleet, hail or other environmental substance was due to the actions of the property owner.
One example of a natural accumulation with resulting negligence is if you slipped and fell getting out of your car in a parking lot that had accumulated rain which froze. If the premises owner contracted with a snow and ice removal company, both the owner and snow and ice removal company can be held responsible for this accident as they each voluntarily undertook duties owed to their customers to provide a reasonably safe parking lot. Relevant questions would exist as to how often they cleared the snow, whether they threw pellets to melt the ice and in what areas of the parking lot they covered, which areas within the parking lot were cleared, and whether the snow and ice removal was done evenly leading to a smooth and safe pathway.
Another example of a natural accumulation with resulting negligence is if a homeowner accumulated snow on their property, the homeowner subsequently removed said snow and then permitted someone onto their property who slipped and fell due to the homeowner negligently removing said snow and ice. In this situation, again if a homeowner voluntary takes the responsibility of clearing their property, they are assuming that duty and may be considered liable for injuries others may sustain while on their property.
An example of an unnatural accumulation from one of our past cases was an employee of a pizza place was washing dishes and equipment racks in the parking lot with a hose which was releasing cold water. The sprayed water ended up freezing overnight leading to an unnaturally created icy pathway endangering individuals walking in the restaurants parking lot. In this instance, our client slipped and fell while walking through the restaurant’s parking lot and both the pizza restaurant and employee were negligent in creating an unnatural condition in violation of their duty of ordinary care owed to our client and which resulted in their suffering injuries.